February 19th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 02:52pm on 19/02/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

Dear New York: You gave us a delightful weekend, and we loved visiting you, but now I’m afraid we must depart and return to our Ohio environs. Thank you for having us. We’ll be back again, you can be sure.

(Also, for all of you who want a Hamilton review from me, I’ll be posting one probably tomorrow or Tuesday. Tune in then!)

james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
andrewducker: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] andrewducker at 12:34pm on 19/02/2017
I have a spare large bed, about a year old. Looks like this:

It's 200cmx160cm - between king-size and super-king-size. Details here.

It's got a decent sprung mattress and slats. Cost about £600 all in, will accept any kind of reasonable offer for it. Must collect.
andrewducker: (Default)
posted by [syndicated profile] newelementary_feed at 11:30am on 19/02/2017

Posted by caperberry

The LEGO® Group want to know what fans think about the way that premium, expensive sets are packaged. They've created a surprisingly detailed survey for everyone to use. As someone who saved LEGO boxes from an early age, I found it rather fun to complete! The survey closes on March 6, 2017.
Continue reading »
posted by [syndicated profile] twentysidedtale_feed at 11:00am on 19/02/2017

Posted by Shamus

A big part of what I do around here is make lemons into lemonade. If I have a programming problem, I write about programming. If I have a problem with a videogame, I write an article about the videogame. If I have a problem with Uplay, then it’s Tuesday.

So maybe it would be more accurate to say that I take lemons and make them into long complaints about lemons. Whatever. It seems to be working out well enough for us so far.

The point is that I’m not sure my usual technique can work here. I’m just finishing up my worst week in years and I’m way behind on my writing. I haven’t been on this site in days, even to read the comments. I don’t know if I’ll have any content for you this coming week and so I’m trying to do the lemons-to-lemonade thing to fill the gap. Also, having a really good bitch-and-moan can be kind of therapeutic.

On the other hand, I’m not sure if I have anything insightful to say about the mundane experience of getting sick. It happens. To all of us. It’s stupid and miserable and we’ve sort of come to accept it as part of being alive on this planet. It’s like if we just accepted that once every six to eighteen months, you have to take a totally random baseball bat to the face for no reason. Ken comes into work on Tuesday with the left side of his face swollen shut and everyone is like, “Dude! Looks like the baseball bat really got you this year.” And Ken just nods his head like, “Mffgh gh mxxxlt.”

The baseball bat this year was a vicious, hateful, pernicious son of a bitch. I really hate this thing, and it’s frustrating that there’s no way to get revenge on something with no sense of identity, memory, or intelligence. I’d love to go all Liam Neeson on this bastard for what it just did to my family.

Heather got it first. It’s the sickest I’ve seen her since 2001. It was so bad she couldn’t stand, so it was up to the rest of the family to try and keep her hydrated and sneak some calories into her when she was feeling brave.

This is why I missed the anniversary episode of the Diecast last week. I didn’t want Heather to text me from the other room saying she needed help getting to the bathroom, and I’d have to reply with, “Sorry babe! Gotta do the internet show!”

Then it hit the rest of us in the household – Esther (17), Issac (15), and myself (1,000) – on Tuesday. This happened one day before Heather had fully recovered. So there was one day last week where there were no healthy people left to care for the sick[2].

You know those big-budget Bollywood movies where the movie is like 4 hours long, and it’s got dark sci-fi, slapstick comedy, a kinda sappy romance with a pop star, a prolonged musical number, and a seemingly unrelated side-plot where a couple of down-on-their-luck buddies go on a road trip together? And halfway through you can’t even remember who these people are or what their goals are because it feels like you’re watching like six different movies spliced together? That’s what this flu was like. It was long, confusing, and it wouldn’t even constrain itself to a particular genre of symptoms. Every time you thought it was building up to some kind of conclusion it just changed gears and added a bunch of new crap to the mix.

I think we should name the flu the way we name hurricanes, because then we’ll have a name to curse when talking about it. It’s much more memorable to talk about “Hurricane Gonzalo” as opposed to “that time it rained really hard in Bermuda in 2014”. With this in mind – and in honor of the flu’s genre-bending nature – I’ve named this flu Bollypox. I apologize to fans of Bollywood. I suppose it’s not fair to fans of Bollywood to name this savage bastard of an illness after their cinema, but in my defense “Bollypox” was devised under intense fever conditions and it was literally the only creative thing I accomplished in the last week.

Check out these symptoms:

  1. Fever.
  2. Chest congestion.
  3. Nasal congestion.
  4. Aches and pains.
  5. Earaches.

Okay, pretty standard stuff. That’s about what I’d expect from your average misery virus. Except, that’s just the first day. After that…

  1. Stomach pain, vomiting.
  2. Diarrhea.
  3. Sore throat.
  4. A constant cough that accomplishes nothing except to generate pain and wake you up if you manage to fall asleep.
  5. Dizziness.

Okay, this is clearly overboard. You could get like two and a half flu seasons out of those symptoms. But no. That’s just the stuff that gets added around day three. And then you get into the weird shit…

  1. A mind-destroying headache. Have you never had a migraine before? No? Well buckle up, because this will be a new experience for you. My wife basically couldn’t open her eyes for about 36 hours while this was going on. You thought that cough hurt yesterday? You have no idea.
  2. Kidney pain.

Every day or so your fever will stop and you’ll start sweating. “Oh good,” you foolishly think, “This insufferable jackass is finally done with me and I can go back to living my life!” And then six hours later the fever shoots up again.

We’ve always referred to the sweating phase as “sweating it out”. I have no idea if there’s any medical basis to that description or if it’s a bit of Edwardian medical folklore that’s hung around into the modern times. But I’ve always heard people say things like, “Oh good. Your fever broke and you’re sweating it out. Get all those nasty germs out of your system. You’ll be able to go to school tomorrow!”

But maybe the sweat is just there to cool you down so you don’t roast your brain, and it’s not actually a means of expelling invaders. I have no idea. Every time I try to look up medical things on Wikipedia it turns out everyone is wrong and then I have to spend the rest of my life resisting the urge to correct people.

The point is that “false hope, followed by cruel disappointment” is part of the process, to the point where maybe I should have just listed it as a symptom.

At any rate, we’re not done yet. There’s one symptom left:

  1. Eye pain.

This is a new one. I’m 46 years old and I’ve never had the flu attack my eyes like this before. Moving them hurts. Adjusting to light hurts. And just in case you still had some sanity left, that stupid useless lingering cough makes them really hurt. I’m supposedly “better” now in the sense that I’m back in my computer chair and typing again, but my eyes still get a little twinge of pain if I move them too quickly.

And those are just the core symptoms that everyone gets. There’s a bunch of extra nonsense that varies from person to person. I had bad itching. My wife got a bloody nose. My kids each had a unique twist added to their particular version of Bollypox.

I Can’t Even

It was kind of interesting to note my changing behaviors as the unpleasantness intensified. At first I just lost the ability to be creative. I couldn’t work, so I switched to playing videogames. But then even playing a game was a little too challenging. So I downloaded a save-game editor for Borderlands 2 and created a new character that was level 51, with accompanying stats and gear. From there I just held down the W key and made all the bad guys explode in one hit. There was no challenge and no threat. I didn’t need to think. I could just follow the map markers and make psychos explode. Somehow, that level of empty sensory gratification was really working for me.

But then as things progressed, even holding W and aiming was asking too much. So I closed the game and started browsing Imgur. That worked for another day or so, but then I sort of lost the ability to engage with the material. If there was text, I wouldn’t read it. If you were supposed to scroll down, I wouldn’t. I never laughed at the jokes and I forgot an image the moment I hit the “Next” button. I just mindlessly clicked to continue the drip-feed of visual stimulus.

Eventually even that was asking too much, and I ended up laying in the dark, doing nothing. When I recovered, I worked backwards through the layers, eventually returning to LOL-mode Borderlands 2. I guess since I’m writing this, I’ve come out the other side.

supergee: (coy3)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 05:47am on 19/02/2017 under
Languages, as seen from the Netherlands
supergee: (rocket coyote)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 05:29am on 19/02/2017 under
Jo Walton wins the Skylark Award.

Thanx to File 770
flick: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] flick at 10:08am on 19/02/2017 under ,
It's amazing what riding GB on a warm, sunny spring morning will do for my mood, especially when he's going really well (for a geriatric!) and we get to have a nice session!
supergee: (shelves)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 04:59am on 19/02/2017 under

Posted by cks

I tweeted:

.@erchiang 's pup tool just turned a gnarly HTML parsing hassle into a trivial shell one liner. Recommended. https://github.com/ericchiang/pup

I like pup so much right now that I want to explain this and show you what pup let me do easily.

I read Twitter through a moderately Rube Goldberg environment (to the extent that I read it at all these days). Choqok, my Linux client, doesn't currently support new Twitter features like long tweets and quoted tweets; the best it can do is give me a link to read the tweet on Twitter's website. Twitter itself is increasingly demanding that you have Javascript on in order to make their site work, which I refuse to turn on for them. The latest irritation is a feature that Twitter calls 'cards'. Cards basically embed a preview of the contents of a link in the tweet; naturally they don't work without JavaScript, and naturally Twitter is turning an increasing number of completely ordinary links into cards, which means that I don't see them.

(This includes the Github link in my tweet about pup. Good work, Twitter.)

If you look at the raw HTML of a tweet, the actual link URL shows up in a number of places (well, the t.co shortened version of it, at least). In a surprise to me, one of them is in an actual <a> link in the Tweet text itself; unfortunately, that link is deliberately hidden with CSS and I don't currently have a viable CSS modification tool in my browser that could take that out. If we want to extract this link out of the HTML, the easiest place is in a <div> that has the link mentioned as a data-card-url property:

<div class="js-macaw-cards-iframe-container initial-card-height card-type-summary"

All we have to do is go through the HTML, find that property, and extract the property value. There are many ways to do this, some better than others; you might use curl, grep, and sed, or you might write a program in the language of your choice to fetch the URL and parse through the HTML with your language's HTML parsing tools.

This is where Eric Chiang's pup tool comes in. Pup is essentially jq for HTML, which means that it can be inadequately described as a structured, HTML-parsing version of grep and sed (see also). With pup, this problem turns into a shell one-liner:

wcat "$URL" | pup 'div[data-card-url] attr{data-card-url}'

The real script that uses this is somewhat more than one line, because it actually gets the URL from my current X selection and then invokes Firefox on it through remote control.

I've had pup sitting around for a while, but this is the first time I've used it. Now that I've experienced how easy pup makes it to grab things out of HTML, I suspect it's not going to be the last time. In fact I have a hand-written HTML parsing program for a similar job that I could replace with a similar pup one-liner.

(I'm not going to do so right now because the program works fine now. But the next time I have to change it, I'll probably just switch over to using pup. It's a lot less annoying to evolve and modify a shell script than it is to keep fiddling with and rebuilding a program.)

PS: via this response to my tweet, I found out about jid, which is basically an interactive version of jq. I suspect that this is going to be handy in the future.

PPS: That the URL is actually in a real <a> link in the HTML does mean that I can turn off CSS entirely (via 'view page in no style', which I have as a gesture in FireGestures because I use it frequently. This isn't all that great, though, because a de-CSS'd Tweet page has a lot of additional cruft on it that you have to scroll through to get to the actual tweet text. But at least it's an option.

Sidebar: Why I don't have CSS mangling in my Firefox

The short version is that both GreaseMonkey and Stylish leak memory on me. I would love to find an addon that doesn't leak memory and enables this kind of modification (here I'd like to strip a 'u-hidden' class from an <a href=...> link), but I haven't yet.

posted by [syndicated profile] shenzhen_noted_feed at 04:08am on 19/02/2017

Posted by Mary Ann O'Donnell

Yesterday I participated in the 蓝海生态艺术巡游 (Make Our Seas Come BLUE) parade, which was organized by CULTaMAP‘s indomitable Tracy Lee. We marched from Statue Square to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum via Victoria Harbor. The march culminated a cross-border Hong Kong-Shenzhen pedagogical collaboration to draw attention to garbage in the oceans, children’s ability to speak to issues that will shape their future possibilities, and the responsibilities of their adults to facilitate uncomfortable conversations in safe environments.

For those convinced that cutting art programs saves money, please remember: Art education enabled these goals to be realized. Under the guidance of eco-arts teachers, Ricky Yeung and Carissa Welton, students designed floats, costumes, and handheld props that raised questions about human responsibility. They also had a chance to do research and debate what was happening and what they could do. The result? Big ideals, bright colors, and children covered in garbage.  And yes, despite the sunshine and smiles, the metaphor is brutally directs: we need to clean-up our act because already too many children (both human and animal) live in and off garbage.

Impressions from the parade, below:

Click to view slideshow.

Posted by CJ

the page locked ME out, and I’ve finally gotten in.
Threadbender, who is our server technical guru, has had to be absent for a few days, so it may take a bit getting fixed. Please bear with us.

Posted by Grant

Way back 25 years ago, when Marvel's most popular artists jumped ship to make and own their own comics, Jim Lee wrote and illustrated the hugely successful superhero team book WildCATS. That soon expanded to an entire line of superhero books under a unified imprint named Wildstorm. Eventually Lee went to work for DC Comics, selling the entire Wildstorm line to them in the process. Some of those characters were incorporated into the DC Universe as a result of the New 52 relaunch. Now that original and separate Wildstorm Universe is getting a relaunch of its own, in Warren Ellis' 24-part maxi-series The Wild Storm.

It is a clever reboot of the various characters and settings, because Ellis remixes the elements into something that feels smart, fresh and socially relevant. At the same time older readers who enjoyed earlier iterations of the characters will appreciate the little nods and touches that are included along the way. It is an intriguing first issue, with plenty of characters and set-ups to keep the title going for quite a while, and its snappy dialogue and well-crafted personalities making an immediate and positive impression.  Jon Davis-Hunt provides some tremendously effective and clean artwork, which is subtlely coloured by Ivan Plascencia. It is a hugely attractive book, visually speaking. On a creative level at least, DC look set to have another hit on their hands. (5/5)

The Wild Storm #1. DC Comics. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon Davis-Hunt. Colours by Ivan Plascencia.

Under the cut: reviews of Animosity, Batwoman Rebirth, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Poe Dameron and Spider-Man.

Animosity #5
Aftershock Comics. Written by Marguerite Bennett. Art by Rafael De Latorre. Colours by Rob Schwager.
Jesse and her dog Sandor continue their journey across the USA to reunite her with her brother in a post-apocalyptic world where animals of all sizes and species have gained the ability to think and speak like humans. There is some really nice material in this issue about the practicalities of the future world: how animals developed their new intelligence, and the repercussions of such creatures having such comparatively short life-spans. It is one of the strongest issues of this series so far, with good writing by Bennett and appealing artwork by De Latorre. (4/5)

Batwoman Rebirth #1
DC Comics. Written by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV. Art by Steve Epting. Colours by Jeremy Cox.
Batwoman gets a relaunch, spun out from the events of Detective Comics, and with Bennett co-writing her second comic for the week. While I do really like the character of Kate Kane, and was keen to see her take the spotlight in her own series again, this issue really is nothing more than a prologue. There is precious little story with which to engage the reader, and long-term fans of the character in particular may find it a bit of a chore. It feels like a terrible cheat, acting more as an extended advertisement for a comic than a comic itself. I suspect it's worth skipping this altogether and checking out Batwoman #1 in a few weeks. (1/5)

Daredevil #17
Marvel. Written by Charles Soule. Art by Ron Garney. Colours by Matt Milla.
When Daredevil relaunched once again last year, it came with an unexplained jump back from California to New York and a revised status quo where suddenly Matt Murdock - who had outed himself to the world as Daredevil - was living a secret identity again. Writer Charles Soule has taken his sweet time, but finally is jumping back to explain how all of the changes actually happened. It's a slightly distanced issue, thanks to its retrospective narration: a better technique would have been to simply jump back and tell the story in the present tense. Garney's art feels a little rough for my tastes, but there's no doubting his talent. (3/5)

Doctor Strange #17
Marvel. Written by Jason Aaron. Art and colours by Frazer Irving.
Mister Misery has taken Wong's body and soul, sending Strange on a quest to find and save him. The one overwhelming asset this issue has is guest artist Frazer Irving. He provides beautiful artwork, with a painterly feel and rich colours. He is a perfect fit for Doctor Strange - certainly a much better one than regular artist Chris Bachalo - and while I know it's unlikely they can keep him on the book month in and month out it would make me so happy if Marvel did. It really takes the book up a notch. (4/5)

Poe Dameron #11
Marvel. Written by Charles Soule. Art and colours by Phil Noto.
Poe escapes Kaddak with his droid spy safely attached to his X-Wing, but the former First Order agent Terrex remains hot on his tail. This is a nice issue for tying together the plot threads of the previous short story arcs, and giving the whole comic to date a nicely unified feel. At the same time there's still an oddly unsatisfactory feel that hangs over this book: there's a lack of familiarity with the Poe Dameron character - he's not actually in that much of The Force Awakens - that stops the story working as well as others have with Darth Vader or Luke, Han and Leia. (3/5)

Spider-Man #13
Marvel. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Sara Pichelli. Colours by Justin Ponsor.
Miles' adventure with Spider-Gwen continues in the parallel universe to which his missing father was dispatched by SHIELD. At this point the novelty feels a little worn out. The quips work fine, and Pichelli's artwork is predictably great, but the story is just feeling that bit too ordinary. It is more like a travelogue of alternative characters than a well-crafted adventure. It is enjoyable enough, but we're getting limited returns with three more issues to go. (3/5)
February 18th, 2017

Posted by John Scalzi

rydra_wong: The display board of a train reads "this train is fucked". (this train is fucked)
posted by [personal profile] rydra_wong at 07:15pm on 18/02/2017 under
The Guardian: McCain attacks Trump administration and inability to 'separate truth from lies'

“The president, I think, makes statements [and] on other occasions contradicts himself. So we’ve learned to watch what the president does as opposed to what he says,” he said.

Without mentioning the president’s name, McCain lamented a shift in the US and Europe away from the “universal values” that forged the Nato alliance seven decades ago. McCain also said the alliance’s founders would be “alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies.”

He's not, is he?

ABC News: McCain slams Trump in Munich speech without using his name

... is he?

Is this just an odd coincidence, or is McCain joining in with the un-naming? It seems exceptionally unlikely, but ...

Also, while I am quite taken with "Buttercup", I also like this thought from [tumblr.com profile] doitninetimes:

Look, I am about as petty as it gets and The Current State Of Affairs have only been pushing me toward my Worst Self. I love! a petty asshole nickname, especially for one so worthy of mockery and distain. But let’s pin this one where it belongs. He is our current Republican President, and you fucking bet I’m going to take every opportunity to bring up that little fact.

"The Current Republican President" (I've also heard suggestions of "the Republican administration"). Because until/unless they impeach him, they fucking own him.

And of course one could always split the difference and go for "Buttercup [or appellation of one's choosing, whether his legal name or not], the current Republican president". So many fun options!
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll at 03:42pm on 18/02/2017
Ever mentioned which Canadian federal ministry deals with metahuman affairs?
inkstone: The Gotcha screen from Pokemon Go (PokeGo)
posted by [personal profile] inkstone in [site community profile] dw_community_promo at 12:39pm on 18/02/2017 under ,
PokeStop - A Pokémon Go Community

Has the launch of Generation 2 rekindled your interest in PokeGo? Then come join us at [community profile] pokestop! We post news, updates, advice, and tips related to the game but fanworks and anecdotes that arise from gameplay are more than welcome too.

Please come join us & let's have some fun!

Posted by Robinson

New York Toy Fair started today and new sets are revealed now. First set that we didn't know any information about is upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean set 71042 The Silent Mary. Set contains approximately 2200 pieces. It will have $199,99 price label and will be release on 1st of April.

rydra_wong: Doonesbury: Mark announcing into a microphone, "That's guilty! Guilty, guilty, guilty!!" (during the Watergate scandal) (guilty)
And can highly recommend this to anyone as a fun and interesting way to kill some time (assuming it was sufficently Before Your Time that you didn't watch it all go down live). Even if you know the rough outline of what happened, it's still fascinating getting into the details (Chapstick microphones!).

Also, of course, it's important that we all learn how to impeach a President.

And I was reminded that if a President can be proved to have colluded in a break-in at the DNC headquarters, there is extremely specific form for impeaching them (I'd somehow not consciously made this connection before, and I don't feel it makes a terrific difference if the break-in is cyber rather than "tape over the latches" ...).

Educational and uplifting!

I'm still down the hole (and plotting a viewing of All The President's Men and re-read of contemporaneous Doonesbury, because hey, might as well go for the full mini-fest here), but here are some links for anyone who wishes to join me in partying like it's 1974:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal ("The Administration and its supporters accused the media of making "wild accusations," putting too much emphasis on the story, and of having a liberal bias against the Administration.")
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_for_the_Re-Election_of_the_President (Note: Buttercup has already announced his candidacy for 2020, which means he is now open for donations to fund his re-election campaign -- given his track record with charity donations, anyone want to bet on how much of that money will be used for other purposes?)

Because I am apparently not the only one feeling retro: The NYT: What Did Trump Know, and When Did He Know It? and Tom Brokaw: The Offer From Nixon I Refused

Also, can we offer a prize to the first journalist/interviewer/Twitterer who can get Buttercup to say (or Tweet) "I'm not a crook"? It's got to be possible to goad him into it. Got to.

(Or amusingly impossible: "Mr. President, are you a crook?" would probably get a ten-minute ramble about the electoral college and "fake news", interspersed with shouted orders to sit down.)
supergee: (monster)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 07:47am on 18/02/2017 under
posted by [syndicated profile] tilesorstuds_feed at 04:16am on 18/02/2017

Posted by Robinson

LEGO Fan and Flickr.com member soccersnyderi shared his latest MOC named Holt Windmill in his own photostream. MOC includes a well built windmill with very neat wall texturing and very near color at roof sections that makes creation awesome. His ground and rock design is realistic with right plant and color choices. 
andrewducker: (Default)
supergee: (gargoyle)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 06:15am on 18/02/2017 under
supergee: (monkeys)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 06:11am on 18/02/2017 under
How the troll factory helped elect its ideal representative
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)
posted by [personal profile] rydra_wong at 08:33pm on 17/02/2017 under
Because although I am not one of you, I seem to know a lot of you. I mentioned the following currently-useless bit of psychiatric trivia in comments, then thought it might be worth sharing more widely.

Because sometimes it's nice to know this shit, even if it doesn't (yet) have any practical implications for how to deal with stuff.

DID YOU KNOW that there's a very well-documented correlation between joint hypermobility and anxiety (and also autonomic and "somatic" problems -- stuff like fibromyalgia, IBS, migraines, etc.)? As in, if you are hypermobile you are way more likely to have the others? Trufax:


It's to the point where one group of researchers have even proposed giving it a name, the "neuroconnective phenotype":


Researchers don't have a clue why there's this connection; it's just one of those weird but strong correlations where they know that if they figured it out, they might know a lot more about what's going on in both conditions. But (at present) they don't. Also, collagen is weird.

So if you're dealing with this cluster of stuff, it's probably not just random coincidence: there is a reason. We just have no idea what the reason is yet.

At any rate, it's yet another reminder that the brain is part of the body, and that even the stuff that's in your head isn't "all in your head".

Posted by cks

I recently read the Archive Team's Robots.txt is a suicide note (via), which strongly advocates removing your robots.txt. As it happens, I have a somewhat different view (including about how sites don't crash under load any more; we have students who beg to differ).

The simple way to put it is that the things I add to robots.txt are hints to web spiders. Some of the time they are a hint that crawling the particular URL hierarchy will not be successful anyways, for example because the hierarchy requires authentication that the robot doesn't have. We have inward facing websites with sections that provide web-based services to local users, and for that matter we have a webmail system. You can try to crawl those URLs all day, but you're not getting anywhere and you never will.

Some of the time my robots.txt entries are a hint that if you crawl this anyways and I notice, I will use server settings to block your robot from the entire site, including content that I was letting you crawl before then. Presumably you would like to crawl some of the content instead of none of it, but if you feel otherwise, well, crawl away. The same is true of signals like Crawl-Delay; you can decide to ignore these, but if you do our next line of defense is blocking you entirely. And we will.

(There are other sorts of hints, and for complex URL structures some of the hints of all sorts are delivered through nofollow. Beyond not irritating me, there are good operational reasons to pay attention to this.)

This points to the larger scale view of what robots.txt is, which is a social contract between sites and web spiders. Sites say 'respect these limits and we will (probably) not block you further'. As a direct consequence of this, robots.txt is also one method to see whether a web spider is polite and well behaved or whether it is rude and nasty. A well behaved web spider respects robots.txt; a nasty one does not. Any web spider that is crawling URLs that are blocked in a long-standing robots.txt is not a nice spider, and you can immediately proceed to whatever stronger measures you feel like using against such things (up to and including firewall IP address range bans, if you want).

By the way, it is a feature that robots self-identify themselves when matching robots.txt. A honest and polite web spider is in a better position to know what it is than a site that has to look at the User-Agent and other indicators, especially because people do dangerous things with their user-agent strings. If I ban a bad robot via server settings and you claim to be sort of like that bad robot for some reason, I'm probably banning you too as a side effect, and I'm unlikely to care if that's a misfire; by and large it's your problem.

(With all of this said, the Archive Team has a completely sensible reason for ignoring robots.txt and I broadly support them doing so. They will run into various sorts of problems from time to time as a result of this, but they know what they're doing so I'm sure they can sort the problems out.)

Posted by Jimmy Maher

In April of 1988, Brian Moriarty of Infocom flew from the East Coast to the West to attend the first ever Computer Game Developers Conference. Hard-pressed from below by the slowing sales of their text adventures and from above by parent company Activision’s ever more demanding management, Infocom didn’t have the money to pay for Moriarty’s trip. Thus he went on his own dime, a situation which left him, as he would later put it, very “grumpy” about the prospect of his ongoing employment by the very company at which he had worked so desperately to win a spot just a few years before.

In time, the Computer Game Developers Conference would evolve into simply the Game Developers Conference, one of the biggest events on the calendar of a $30 billion industry. In 1988, however, it consisted of 26 people stuffed into the San Jose living room of Chris Crawford, the conference’s founder and organizer. Moriarty recalls showing up a little late, scanning the room, and seeing just one chair free, oddly on the first row. He rushed over to take it, and soon struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to him, whom he had never met before that day. As fate would have it, his neighbor’s name was Noah Falstein, and he worked for Lucasfilm Games.

Attendees to the first ever Computer Game Developers Conference. Brian Moriarty is in the reddish tee-shirt at center rear, looking cool in his rock-star shades.

Falstein knew and admired Moriarty’s work for Infocom, and knew likewise, as did everyone in the industry, that things hadn’t been going so well back in Cambridge for some time now. His own Lucasfilm Games was in the opposite position. After having struggled since their founding back in 1982 to carve out an identity for themselves under the shadow of George Lucas’s Star Wars empire, by 1988 they finally had the feeling of a company on the rise. With Maniac Mansion, their big hit of the previous year, Falstein and his colleagues seemed to have found in point-and-click graphical adventures a niche that was both artistically satisfying and commercially rewarding. They were already hard at work on the follow-up to Maniac Mansion, and Lucasfilm Games’s management had given the go-ahead to look for an experienced adventure-game designer to help them make more games. As one of Infocom’s most respected designers, Brian Moriarty made an immediately appealing candidate, not least in that Lucasfilm Games liked to see themselves as the Infocom of graphical adventures, emphasizing craftsmanship and design as a way to set themselves apart from the more slapdash games being pumped out in much greater numbers by their arch-rivals Sierra.

Brian Moriarty on the job at Lucasfilm.

For his part, Moriarty was ripe to be convinced; it wasn’t hard to see the writing on the wall back at Infocom. When Falstein showed him some photographs of Lucasfilm Games’s offices at Skywalker Ranch in beautiful Marin County, California, and shared stories of rubbing elbows with movie stars and casually playing with real props from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, the contrast with life inside Infocom’s increasingly empty, increasingly gloomy offices could hardly have been more striking. Then again, maybe it could have been: at his first interview with Lucasfilm Games’s head Steve Arnold, Moriarty was told that the division had just two mandates. One was “don’t lose money”; the other was “don’t embarrass George Lucas.” Anything else — like actually making money — was presumably gravy. Again, this was music to the ears of Moriarty, who like everyone at Infocom was now under constant pressure from Activision’s management to write games that would sell in huge numbers.

Brian Moriarty arrived at Skywalker Ranch for his first day of work on August 1, 1988. As Lucasfilm Games’s new star designer, he was given virtually complete freedom to make whatever game he wanted to make.

Noah Falstein in Skywalker Ranch’s conservatory. This is where the Games people typically ate their lunches, which were prepared for them by a gourmet chef. There were definitely worse places to work…

For all their enthusiasm for adventure games, the other designers at Lucasfilm were struggling a bit at the time to figure out how to build on the template of Maniac Mansion. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, David Fox’s follow-up to Ron Gilbert’s masterstroke, had been published just the day before Moriarty arrived at Skywalker Ranch. It tried a little too obviously to capture the same campy charm, whilst, in typical games-industry fashion, trying to make it all better by making it bigger, expanding the scene of the action from a single night spent in a single mansion to locations scattered all around the globe and sometimes off it. The sense remained that Lucasfilm wanted to do things differently from Sierra, who are unnamed but ever-present — along with a sly dig at old-school rivals like Infocom still making text adventures — within a nascent manifesto of three paragraphs published in Zak McKracken‘s manual, entitled simply “Our Game Design Philosophy.”

We believe that you buy games to be entertained, not to be whacked over the head every time you make a mistake. So we don’t bring the game to a screeching halt when you poke your nose into a place you haven’t visited before. In fact, we make it downright difficult to get a character “killed.”

We think you’d prefer to solve the game’s mysteries by exploring and discovering. Not by dying a thousand deaths. We also think you like to spend your time involved in the story. Not typing in synonyms until you stumble upon the computer’s word for a certain object.

Unlike conventional computer adventures, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders doesn’t force you to save your progress every few minutes. Instead, you’re free to concentrate on the puzzles, characters, and outrageous good humor.

Worthy though these sentiments were, Lucasfilm seemed uncertain as yet how to turn them into practical rules for design. Ironically, Zak McKracken, the game with which they began publicly articulating their focus on progressive design, is the most Sierra-like Lucasfilm game ever made, with the sheer nonlinear sprawl of the thing spawning inevitable confusion and yielding far more potential dead ends than its designer would likely wish to admit. While successful enough in its day, it never garnered the love that’s still accorded to Maniac Mansion today.

Lucasfilm Games’s one adventure of 1989 was a similarly middling effort. A joint design by Gilbert, Falstein, and Fox, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure — an Action Game was also made — marked the first time since Labyrinth that the games division had been entrusted with one of George Lucas’s cinematic properties. They don’t seem to have been all that excited at the prospect. The game dutifully walks you through the plot you’ve already watched unfold on the silver screen, without ever taking flight as a creative work in its own right. The Lucasfilm “Game Design Philosophy” appears once again in the manual in almost the exact same form as last time, but once again the actual game hews to this ideal imperfectly at best, with, perhaps unsurprisingly given the two-fisted action movie on which it’s based, lots of opportunities to get Indy killed and have to revert to one of those save files you supposedly don’t need to create.

So, the company was rather running to stand still as Brian Moriarty settled in. They were determined to evolve their adventure games in design terms to match the strides Sierra was making in technology, but were uncertain how to actually go about the task. Moriarty wanted to make his own first work for Lucasfilm a different, more somehow refined experience than even the likes of Maniac Mansion. But how to do so? In short, what should he do with his once-in-a-lifetime chance to make any game he wanted to make?

Flipping idly through a computer magazine one day, he was struck by an advertisement that prominently featured the word “loom.” He liked the sound of it; it reminded him of other portentous English words like “gloom”, “doom,” and “tomb.” And he liked the way it could serve as either a verb or a noun, each with a completely different meaning. In a fever of inspiration, he sat down and wrote out the basis of the adventure game he would soon design, about a Loom which binds together the fabric of reality, a Guild of Weavers which uses the Loom’s power to make magic out of sound, and Bobbin Threadbare, the “Loom Child” who must save the Loom — and thus the universe — from destruction before it’s too late. It would be a story and a game with the stark simplicity of fable.

Simplicity, however, wasn’t exactly trending in the computer-games industry of 1988. Since the premature end of the would-be Home Computer Revolution of the early 1980s, the audience for computer games had grown only very slowly. Publishers had continued to serve the same base of hardcore players, who lusted after ever more complex games to take advantage of the newest hardware. Simulations had collected ever more buttons and included ever more variables to keep track of, while strategy games had gotten ever larger and more time-consuming. Nor had adventure games been immune to the trend, as was attested by Moriarty’s own career to date. Each of his three games for Infocom had been bigger and more difficult than the previous, culminating in his adventure/CRPG hybrid Beyond Zork, the most baroque game Infocom had made to date, with more options for its onscreen display alone than some professional business applications. Certainly plenty of existing players loved all this complexity. But did all games really need to go this way? And, most interestingly, what about all those potential players who took one look at the likes of Beyond Zork and turned back to the television? Moriarty remembered a much-discussed data point that had emerged from the surveys Infocom used to send to their customers: the games people said were their favorites overlapped almost universally with those they said they had been able to finish. In keeping with this trend, Moriarty’s first game for Infocom, which had been designed as an introduction to interactive fiction for newcomers, had been by far his most successful. What, he now thought, if he used the newer hardware at his disposal in the way that Apple has historically done, in pursuit of simplicity rather than complexity?

The standard Lucasfilm interface of the late 1980s, shown here in Maniac Mansion.

Lucasfilm Games’s current point-and-click interface, while undoubtedly the most painless in the industry at the time, was nevertheless far too complicated for Moriarty’s taste, still to a large extent stuck in the mindset of being a graphical implementation of the traditional text-adventure interface rather than treating the graphical adventure as a new genre in its own right. Thus the player was expected to first select a verb from a list at the bottom of the screen and then an object to which to apply it. The interface had done the job well enough to date, but Moriarty felt that it would interfere with the seamless connection he wished to build between the player sitting there before the screen and the character of Bobbin Threadbare standing up there on the screen. He wanted something more immediate, more intuitive — preferably an interface that didn’t require words at all. He envisioned music as an important part of his game: the central puzzle-solving mechanic would involve the playing of “drafts,” little sequences of notes created with Bobbin’s distaff. But he wanted music to be more than a puzzle-solving mechanic. He wanted the player to be able to play the entire game like a musical instrument, wordlessly and beautifully. He was thus thrilled when he peeked under the hood of Lucasfilm’s SCUMM adventure-game engine and found that it was possible to strip the verb menu away entirely.

Some users of Apple’s revolutionary HyperCard system for the Macintosh were already experimenting with wordless interfaces. Within weeks of HyperCard’s debut, a little interactive storybook called Inigo Gets Out, “programmed” by a non-programmer named Amanda Goodenough, had begun making the rounds, causing a considerable stir among industry insiders. The story of a house cat’s brief escape to the outdoors, it filled the entire screen with its illustrations, responding intuitively to single clicks on the pictures. Just shortly before Moriarty started work at Lucasfilm Games, Rand and Robyn Miller had taken this experiment a step further with The Manhole, a richer take on the concept of an interactive children’s storybook. Still, neither of these HyperCard experiences quite qualified as a game, and Moriarty and Lucasfilm were in fact in the business of making adventure games. Loom could be simple, but it had to be more than a software toy. Moriarty’s challenge must be to find enough interactive possibility in a verb-less interface to meet that threshold.

In response to that challenge, Moriarty created an interface that stands out today as almost bizarrely ahead of its time; not until years later would its approach be adopted by graphic adventures in general as the default best way of doing things. Its central insight, which it shared with the aforementioned HyperCard storybooks, was the realization that the game didn’t always need the player to explicitly tell it what she wanted to do when she clicked a certain spot on the onscreen picture. Instead the game could divine the player’s intention for itself, based only on where she happened to be clicking. What was sacrificed in the disallowing of certain types of more complex puzzles was gained in the creation of a far more seamless, intuitive link between the player, the avatar she controlled, and the world shown on the screen.

The brief video snippet above shows Loom‘s user interface in its entirety. You make Bobbin walk around by clicking on the screen. Hovering the mouse over an object or character with which Bobbin can interact brings up an image of that object or character in the bottom right corner of the screen; double-clicking the same “hot spot” then causes Bobbin to engage, either by manipulating an object in some way or by talking to another character. Finally, Bobbin can cast “spells” in the form of drafts by clicking on the musical staff at the bottom of the screen. In the snippet above, the player learns the “open” draft by double-clicking on the egg, an action which in this case results in Bobbin simply listening to it. The player and Bobbin then immediately cast the same draft to reveal within the egg his old mentor, who has been transformed into a black swan.

Moriarty seemed determined to see how many of the accoutrements of traditional adventure games he could strip away and still have something that was identifiable as an adventure game. In addition to eliminating menus of verbs, he also excised the concept of an inventory; throughout the game, Bobbin carries around with him nothing more than the distaff he uses for weaving drafts. With no ability to use this object on that other object, the only puzzle-solving mechanic that’s left is the magic system. In the broad strokes, magic in Loom is very much in the spirit of Infocom’s Enchanter series, in which you collect spells for your spell book, then cast them to solve puzzles that, more often than not, reward you with yet more spells. In Loom the process is essentially the same, expect that you’re collecting musical drafts to weave on your distaff rather than spells for your spell book. And yet this musical approach to spell weaving is as lovely as a game mechanic can be. Lucasfilm thoughtfully included a “Book of Patterns” with the game, listing the drafts and providing musical staffs on which you can denote their sequences of notes as you discover them while playing.

The audiovisual aspect of Loom was crucial to capturing the atmosphere of winsome melancholia Moriarty was striving for. Graphics and sound were brand new territory for him; his previous games had consisted of nothing but text. Fortunately, the team of artists that worked with him grasped right away what was needed. Each of the guilds of craftspeople which Bobbin visits over the course of the game is marked by its own color scheme: the striking emerald of the Guild of Glassmakers, the softer pastoral greens of the Guild of Shepherds, the Stygian reds of the Guild of Blacksmiths, and of course the lovely, saturated blues and purples of Bobbin’s own Guild of Weavers. This approach came in very handy for technical as well as thematic reasons, given that Loom was designed for EGA graphics of just 16 onscreen colors.

The overall look of Loom was hugely influenced by the 1959 Disney animated classic Sleeping Beauty, with many of the panoramic shots in the game dovetailing perfectly with scenes from the film. Like Sleeping Beauty, Loom was inspired and accompanied by the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whom Moriarty describes as his “constant companion throughout my life”; while Sleeping Beauty draws from Tchaikovsky’s ballet of the same name, Loom draws from another of his ballets, Swan Lake. Loom sounds particularly gorgeous when played through a Roland MT-32 synthesizer board — an experience that, given the $600 price tag of the Roland, far too few players got to enjoy back in the day. But regardless of how one hears it, it’s hard to imagine Loom without its classical soundtrack. Harking back to Hollywood epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the MT-32 version of Loom opens with a mood-establishing orchestral overture over a blank screen.

To provide the final touch of atmosphere, Moriarty walked to the other side of Skywalker Ranch, to the large brick building housing Skywalker Sound, and asked the sound engineers in that most advanced audio-production facility in the world if they could help him out. Working from a script written by Moriarty and with a cast of voice actors on loan from the BBC, the folks at Skywalker Sound produced a thirty-minute “audio drama” setting the scene for the opening of the game; it was included in the box on a cassette. Other game developers had occasionally experimented with the same thing as a way of avoiding having to cover all that ground in the game proper, but Loom‘s scene-setter stood out for its length and for the professional sheen of its production. Working for Lucasfilm did have more than a few advantages.

If there’s something to complain about when it comes to Loom the work of interactive art, it must be that its portentous aesthetics lead one to expect a thematic profundity which the story never quite attains. Over the course of the game, Bobbin duly journeys through Moriarty’s fairy-tale world and defeats the villain who threatens to rip asunder the fabric of reality. The ending, however, is more ambiguous than happy, with only half of the old world saved from the Chaos that has poured in through the rip in the fabric. I don’t object in principle to the idea of a less than happy ending (something for which Moriarty was becoming known). Still, and while the final image is, like everything else in the game, lovely in its own right, this particular ambiguous ending feels weirdly abrupt. The game has such a flavor of fable or allegory that one somehow wants a little more from it at the end, something to carry away back to real life. But then again, beauty, which Loom possesses in spades, has a value of its own, and it’s uncertain whether the sequels Moriarty originally planned to make — Loom had been envisioned as a trilogy — would have enriched the story of the first game or merely, as so many sequels do, trampled it under their weight.

From the practical standpoint of a prospective purchaser of Loom upon its initial release, on the other hand, there’s room for complaint beyond quibbling about the ending. We’ve had occasion before to observe how the only viable model of commercial game distribution in the 1980s and early 1990s, as $40 boxed products shipped to physical store shelves, had a huge effect on the content of those games. Consumers, reasonably enough, expected a certain amount of play time for their $40. Adventure makers thus learned that they needed to pad out their games with enough puzzles — too often bad but time-consuming ones — to get their play times up into the region of at least twenty hours or so. Moriarty, however, bucked this trend in Loom. Determined to stay true to the spirit of minimalism to the bitter end, he put into the game only what needed to be there. The end result stands out from its peers for its aesthetic maturity, but it’s also a game that will take even the most methodical player no more than four or five hours to play. Today, when digital distribution has made it possible for developers to make games only as long as their designs ask to be and adjust the price accordingly, Loom‘s willingness to do what it came to do and exit the stage without further adieu is another quality that gives it a strikingly modern feel. But in the context of the times of the game’s creation, it was a bit of a problem.

When Loom was released in March of 1990, many hardcore adventure gamers were left nonplussed not only by the game’s short length but also by its simple puzzles and minimalist aesthetic approach in general, so at odds with the aesthetic maximalism that has always defined the games industry as a whole. Computer Gaming World‘s Johnny Wilson, one of the more sophisticated game commentators of the time, did get what Loom was doing, praising its atmosphere of “hope and idealism tainted by realism.” Others, though, didn’t seem quite so sure what to make of an adventure game that so clearly wanted its players to complete it, to the point of including a “practice” mode that would essentially solve all the puzzles for them if they so wished. Likewise, many players just didn’t seem equipped to appreciate Loom‘s lighter, subtler aesthetic touch. Computer Gaming World‘s regular adventure-gaming columnist Scorpia, a traditionalist to the core, said the story “should have been given an epic treatment, not watered down” — a terrible idea if you ask me (if there’s one thing the world of gaming, then or now, doesn’t need, it’s more “epic” stories). “As an adventure game,” she concluded, “it is just too lightweight.” Ken St. Andre, creator of Tunnels & Trolls and co-creator of Wasteland, expressed his unhappiness with the ambiguous ending in Questbusters, the ultimate magazine for the adventuring hardcore:

The story, which begins darkly, ends darkly as well. That’s fine in literature or the movies, and lends a certain artistic integrity to such efforts. In a game, however, it’s neither fair nor right. If I had really been playing Bobbin, not just watching him, I would have done some things differently, which would have netted a different conclusion.

Echoing as they do a similar debate unleashed by the tragic ending of Infocom’s Infidel back in 1983, the persistence of such sentiments must have been depressing for Brian Moriarty and others trying to advance the art of interactive storytelling. St. Andre’s complaint that Loom wouldn’t allow him to “do things differently” — elsewhere in his review he claims that Loom “is not a game” at all — is one that’s been repeated for decades by folks who believe that anything labeled as an interactive story must allow the player complete freedom to approach the plot in her own way and to change its outcome. I belong to the other camp: the camp that believes that letting the player inhabit the role of a character in a relatively fixed overarching narrative can foster engagement and immersion, even in some cases new understanding, by making her feel she is truly walking in someone else’s shoes — something that’s difficult to accomplish in a non-interactive medium.

Responses like those of Scorpia and Ken St. Andre hadn’t gone unanticipated within Lucasfilm Games prior to Loom‘s release. On the contrary, there had been some concern about how Loom would be received. Moriarty had countered by noting that there were far, far more people out there who weren’t hardcore gamers like those two, who weren’t possessed of a set of fixed expectations about what an adventure game should be, and that many of these people might actually be better equipped to appreciate Loom‘s delicate aesthetics than the hardcore crowd. But the problem, the nut nobody would ever quite crack, would always be that of reaching this potential alternate customer base. Non-gamers didn’t read the gaming magazines where they might learn about something like Loom, and even Lucasfilm Games wasn’t in a position to launch a major assault on the alternative forms of media they did peruse.

In the end, Loom wasn’t a flop, and thus didn’t violate Steve Arnold’s dictum of “don’t lose money” — and certainly it didn’t fall afoul of the dictum of “don’t embarrass George.” But it wasn’t a big hit either, and the sequels Moriarty had anticipated for better or for worse never got made. Ron Gilbert’s The Secret of Monkey Island, Lucasfilm’s other adventure game of 1990, was in its own way as brilliant as Moriarty’s game, but was much more traditional in its design and aesthetics, and wound up rather stealing Loom‘s thunder. It would be Monkey Island rather than Loom that would become the template for Lucasfilm’s adventure games going forward. Lucasfilm would largely stick to comedy from here on out, and would never attempt anything quite so outré as Loom again. It would only be in later years that Moriarty’s game would come to be widely recognized as one of Lucasfilm Games’s finest achievements. Such are the frustrations of the creative life.

Having made Loom, Brian Moriarty now had four adventure games on his CV, three of which I consider to be unassailable classics — and, it should be noted, the fourth does have its fans as well. He seemed poised to remain a leading light in his creative field for a long, long time to come. It therefore feels like a minor tragedy that this, his first game for Lucasfilm, would mark the end of his career in adventure games rather than a new beginning; he would never again be credited as the designer of a completed adventure game. We’ll have occasion to dig a little more into the reasons why that should have been the case in a future article, but for now I’ll just note how much an industry full of so many blunt instruments could have used his continuing delicate touch. We can only console ourselves with the knowledge that, should Loom indeed prove to be the last we ever hear from him as an adventure-game designer, it was one hell of a swansong.

(Sources: the book Game Design Theory and Practice by Richard Rouse III; ACE of April 1990; Questbusters of June 1990 and July 1990; Computer Gaming World of April 1990 and July/August 1990. But the bulk of this article was drawn from Brian Moriarty’s own Loom postmortem for, appropriately enough, the 2015 Game Developers Conference, which was a far more elaborate affair than the 1988 edition.

Loom is available for purchase is from GOG.com. Sadly, however, this is the VGA/CD-ROM re-release — I actually prefer the starker appearance of the original EGA graphics — and lacks the scene-setting audio drama. It’s also afflicted with terrible voice acting which completely spoils the atmosphere, and the text is bowdlerized to boot. Motivated readers should be able to find both the original version and the audio drama elsewhere on the Internet without too many problems. I do recommend that you seek them out, perhaps after purchasing a legitimate copy to fulfill your ethical obligation, but I can’t take the risk of hosting them here.)

james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll at 08:31pm on 17/02/2017

According to the National Institute of Health, the average resting heart rate: for children 10 years and older, and adults (including seniors) is 60 - 100 beats per minute. for well-trained athletes is 40 - 60 beats per minute.

Because I had a consult with my sleep doctor last week, I happen to know what my heart rate is: 53.

Posted by Grant

One of the greatest strengths of the DC Universe - when its editors aren't indulging in rampant Silver Age nostalgia - is its constant creation of legacy characters: new versions of old characters that transform those personas a little a keep the various franchises fresh and interesting for readers. Two of the best in recent years have been Damian Wayne - the arrogant, aristocratic son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul - and Jonathan Kent - the bright-eyed, hopelessly optimistic son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. One has been Robin for some years now, and the other has adopted the Superboy identity as part of DC Rebirth. Now they're sharing their own monthly comic book: Super Sons.

It's a delight. It immediately reminded me of Young Justice, a much earlier team-up book featuring a different Superboy and Robin alongside Impulse (a Kid Flash variant). It's engaging, bright and tremendously funny. Peter J. Tomasi has a long experience writing for both characters, and Jorge Jiminez's artwork perfectly captures the script's tone.

They are a fantastic pair of characters, because they are effectively exaggerated versions of their respective fathers. Superman may be the straight-laced boy scout, but Jonathan is charmingly obsessed with helping others, doing the right thing, and taking down bullies. At the same time Damian is every iconic aspect of Batman dialled up to 11. He's moody, smart, stand-offish and an expert in tactics and hand-to-hand combat. The contrast between them throws huge amounts of comic potential into the air - a potential that this creative team seem very well-suited to capture. (4/5)

Super Sons #1. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Jorge Jiminez.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow, and Superman. It's a DC Comics fiesta!

Aquaman #17
DC Comics. Written by Dan Abnett. Art by Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher. Colours by Gabe Eltaeb.
After addressing the United Nations for the first time, Aquaman comes face to face with his latest enemy - the mind-controlling cyborg Warhead. I have to admit I am not feeling it with this villain: it feels weirdly under-cooked and generic, like a mid-1990s refugee that fled an older comic because nobody could remember it. Early sections of this issue are more solid, and keep the overall storyline moving, but then it just falls into a bit of a heap. On the plus side, Eaton and Faucher's art is great as always. (3/5)

Batman #17
DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by David Finch and Danny Miki. Colours by Jordie Bellaire.
Batman continues to prepare for Bane's arrival in Gotham. Another issue of set-up, which follows a first issue of set-up - and that's a lot of building up to something without actually giving any big 'wow' moments back to the reader. After the nicely ominous tone of the last issue this one just feels like a bit of a let-down. Next issue it all may explode in the most satisfying manner possible, but for now it feels as if King is setting up something that is ultimately going to be disappointing in comparison to the hype. (3/5)

Green Arrow #17
DC Comics. Written by Benjamin Percy. Art and colours by Otto Schmidt.
Oliver Queen just isn't getting a break at the moment. He has failed to clear his name after the police commissioner got murdered, a criminal syndicate has taken over his company, and now he's trading shots with Malcolm Merlyn. This is a solid issue but not a great one: the narrative pushes forward without any key sequence here to showcase the characters or present a killer action sequence. It's ostensibly the climax of the "Emerald Outlaw" storyline, but it feels like something designed to bridge two better issues. Otto Schmidt's art, however, is top notch. (3/5)

Superman #17 
DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. Art by Sebastian Fiumara. Colours by Dave Stewart.
Jonathan Kent and his best friend Kathy go sneaking into Dead Man's Swamp on a night-time hunt for a missing cow and grandfather. It's a weird sort of an issue, showing off a sort of light solo adventure for Jonathan without his famous father in tow, and ending on an ominous sort of light cliffhanger. Fiumara's artwork is nicely old-fashioned, and actually matches the sort of 1970s O'Neill-Adams style that the script mostly hearks back towards. It does feel like an odd issue for Superman however: the big blue guy is essentially nowhere to be seen. (3/5)
February 17th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] reprog_feed at 11:14pm on 17/02/2017

Posted by Mike Taylor


I re-read this compilation of the scripts of the Beyond the Fringe sketches because I was also re-reading Roger Wilmut’s history of early British sketch comedy From Fringe to Flying Circus (see below). As with all cultural movements, it’s sort of arbitrary where one draws the line and says “this is where it started” (were Black Sabbath the first heavy metal band, or do we go back to the Kinks’ You Really Got Me?), but a fair case can be made that the 1961 revue Beyond the Fringe was really the starting point of modern sketch comedy: a show written entirely by the performers, with minimal set and props keeping attention on the words, and combining satire with surrealism.

Cast of Beyond The Fringe, by Lewis Morley, resin print, 1961. Left to right: Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett; front, Dudley Moore.

Cast of Beyond The Fringe, by Lewis Morley, resin print, 1961. Back row, left to right: Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett; front, Dudley Moore.

From this beginning, and from subsequent Cambridge Footlights revues such as A Clump of Plinths (retitled Cambridge Circus for the West End), came most of the distinctive British sketch comedy of the late 1960s, 1970s and 80s — including The Goodies and Monty Python’s Flying Circus — and later narrative comedies like Fawlty Towers and Ripping Yarns. But in truth, it’s not at all obvious from the Fringe scripts that all this creativity was waiting to burst out. It’s clearest in the work of the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore duo, which is more prone to veer off on surreal tangents than that of Alan Bennett or Jonathan Miller. But there is a distinctively upper-class quality to the performances of all four (ironically given the relatively unexalted origins of both Bennett and Moore) — which makes it all the more strange to think that Beyond the Fringe was perceived as dangerously iconoclastic back in 1961.

Well, watch it for yourself, and see what you think. It’s easier to see the influence of the performances than that of the writing, perhaps: the voice adopted by Dudley Moore’s character in the Civil Defence sketch pops up a lot in Monty Python, and Moore’s facial expressions when performing the Brecht song later in the show must have been a formative influence on Rowan Atkinson.


The second of the seven-book Harry Potter series suffers slightly from feeling like a bit of a re-tread of the first. But it still keeps the pages turning, and it contains maybe my favourite passage in all of HP, which I will take the liberty of quoting at some length:

Suddenly, something that was nagging at Harry came tumbling out of his mouth.

“Professor Dumbledore … He [Voldemort] said I’m like him. Strange likenesses, he said …”

Did he, now?” said Dumbledore, looking thoughtfully at Harry from under his thick silver eyebrows. “And what do you think, Harry?”

“I don’t think I’m like him!” said Harry, more loudly than he’d intended. “I mean, I’m — I’m in Gryffindor, I’m …”

But he fell silent, a lurking doubt resurfacing in his mind.

“Professor,” he started again after a moment. “The Sorting Hat told me I’d — I’d have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin’s heir for a while … because I can speak Parseltongue …”

“You can speak Parseltongue, Harry,” said Dumbledore calmly, “because Lord Voldemort — who is the last remaining descendant of Salazar Slytherin — can speak Parseltongue. Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure …”

“Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Harry said, thunderstruck.

“It certainly seems so.”

“So I should be in Slytherin,” Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore’s face. “The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin’s power in me, and it –“

“Put you in Gryffindor,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. His own very rare gift, Parseltongue — resourcefulness — determination — a certain disregard for rules,” he added, his mustache quivering again. “Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”

“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, “because I asked not to go in Slytherin …”

Exactly,” said Dumbledore, beaming once more.

“Which makes you very different from him. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

This is important stuff, convincingly conveyed in a kids’ book — one that is often written off, wrongly, as trivial. This is the kind of thing that persuades me Rowling is more than a competent tale-teller, but a legitimately important writer.


A truly fascinating history of British sketch comedy from about 1960 to 1980, beginning with the Cambridge University revues that transferred to the West End (including Beyond the Fringe) and finishing with Monty Python and the Life of Brian. I first read this shortly after it came out, borrowing it from our local library. I got a second-hand copy for Christmas, and found it just as engaging as I had all those years ago, though it’s sobering to realise how many of those covered are now dead (Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Marty Feldman, John Fortune, Graham Chapman, David Frost) and indeed how old the survivors are. (The idea that John Cleese is 77 seems completely bizarre.)

Wilmut is an excellent writer, surveying all the relevant background without getting bogged down in side-quests, and illustrating the qualities of the various performers’ writing with numerous transcripts of important and overlooked sketches. I am delighted to find — literally just now, as I am writing this — that he also wrote a book about the British alternative comedy of the 1980s, Didn’t You Kill My Mother-in-law?, which I have just ordered a second-hand copy of for 77p plus postage. Truly we live in the future.

As a result of reading this, I re-read The Complete Beyond the Fringe (see above) and for the first time The Goodies’ Book of (Criminal) Records (see below); and I watched the recordings of Beyond the Fringe and How to Irritate People, and have started going through all the Monty Python’s Flying Circus episodes from the start. It’s good to be reminded of all this good stuff from time to time.


A pleasant enough, but frankly insubstantial, short story packaged as a novel. There is little enough about that is specifically Dave Barry-esque, and I’m not sure I would have bothered with it had it not been by an author whose other work I love.

It’s an account of a childhood Christmas from the perspective of a ten-or-eleven-year-old boy, and the substance of it is pretty clearly autobiographical: the viewpoint character’s initials (DB for Doug Barnes) match Barry’s; it takes place in Asquont, NY, whereas Barry grew up in Armonk, NY; Doug has a brother called Stuart, while Barry’s is named Sam; Doug’s father has the same mechanical ineptitude as Barry’s. I’d be interested to know how many of the other characters are thinly disguised version of real people that the young Barry knew — I suspect several more.


The very last of Dave Barry’s sole-authored books that I read, and the least interesting — though the format more or less guaranteed that it would be, which is why I held off from buying it for so long. Good for a laugh or two here and there, but really only for completists.


A very strange book, essentially a compendium of fairly random comedy material squeezed into an overarching narrative whereby the various sections of the book are exhibits in a trial for libel that the Goodies are bringing against the publishers of their first book The Goodies File — which they allege was not by them and misrepresents them. The material varies wildly in quality, some of it feeling very much like it was written for their show but rejected. Enjoyable to dip into, and very nicely produced, but rather exhausting to read straight through.

George and Joe and Jack and Bob — Andrew Rilstone

In this forensic but playful dissection of the Star Wars films (the six of them that existed when this was published), the rather oblique title refers obviously to George Lucas and Joseph “Hero’s Journey” Campbell; and rather less obviously to Marvel/DC writer/artist Jack Kirby and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, who both come into the latter stages of the argument.

The first half of the book is, beyond all doubt, by far the best thing I have ever read about Star Wars: literate, thoughtful, funny, suitably sceptical but at the same time still enchanted by the films and the phenomena that they spawned. (C. S. Lewis would say that Rilstone is re-enchanted.) What I mean is that, while he has a clear head about what the films are not — great art, for example — he doesn’t allow those negative perceptions to spill over so that they prevent him from seeing what they are — great myth, for example. In my experience, that is very rare in writing about Star Wars: most critics are either fanboys or iconoclasts.

The heart of the book is the section “Little Orphan Anakin” (pages 42-74), consisting of six parts:

  • 4. The Mask of God
  • 5, Daddy, Daddy, You Bastard, I’m Through
  • 6. The Hero with At Least Two Faces
  • 1. Attack of the Cloned Reviews
  • 2. Questions, Questions, Too Many Questions
  • 3. A Certain Point of View

His contention — to disgracefully over-summarise — is that the six pre-Force Awakens films are really nine films: the original trilogy as we first saw it, the prequel trilogy, and then the original three again, but this time seen in the light of the prequels. Far-fetched? Over-stated? Well — get your own copy and see what you think.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — J. K. Rowling

By general consent (including mine), the film of Prisoner of Azkaban is the best of the eight in the Harry Potter series. Partly that’s because of its distinctive visual style, breathless pace and careful trimming of material from the book. But most fundamentally, it’s because it’s based on, I would argue, the best of the seven books.

By this third book in the series, Hogwarts has started to feel like a real place inhabited by real people, rather than the slightly cardboard-cut-out aggregation of Magical Places And People that inhabited the first two books. While the details of how magic is done in this universe remain vague and rather trivial (“Riddikulus!”, “Expecto Patronum!”), it makes just enough sense to hold the story together. And since that story is coherent and well told, and about people who we have come to care about, the book is gripping.

On re-reading it this time (for the third or fourth time, I think) I was struck by how very good Rowling is at foreshadowing, dropping in the crucial clues that would let a clever reader guess the twists but without telegraphing “here comes a clue”. Rowling gets some criticism for her weakness as a prose stylist — not wholly unfairly — but she really is masterly at constructing a plot. It also helps that Prisoner is the book in which the previous generation (Harry’s parents, and their friends and enemies) start to become important, something that lends an extra depth to the unfolding narrative.

All in all, a fine book. The greatest compliment I can pay Prisoner is that the moment I finished it (some time around midnight, as it happens), I wanted to go straight onto Goblet of Fire.


A good book to avoid for anyone who is not already familiar with, and sympathetic to, Chesterton. His dissection of the then-modern world (published in 1910) is as usual both brilliant and funny, and contains much that is eminently quotable. But it’s overshadowed by some attitudes that now seem appallingly blinkered — not least, Chesterton’s position that women should not vote. His reasons are chivalrous, and not without some rhetorical force, but monstrously patronising. (I won’t do him the disservice of trying to summarise his argument here: it would only make you angry and I wouldn’t like you when you’re angry.)

I’ve said in the past that I always enjoy Chesterton’s books more on the second read than on the first; What’s Wrong with the World is the dishonourable exception to that rule. I think it may be the only Chesterton where I was relieved when I reached the end.

BUT! Don’t let that put you off Chesterton. Go and read The Man Who Was Thursday (which you can get for free from Project Gutenberg). DO NOT READ ANY SPOILERS. You’ll thank me.

james_davis_nicoll: (Default)


posted by [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll at 05:43pm on 17/02/2017
My phone is developing little quirks, like its browser not posting to Facebook and not reliably charge or connecting to my laptop. Sad me.
posted by [syndicated profile] tilesorstuds_feed at 02:18pm on 17/02/2017

Posted by Robinson

Nowadays, Iron Builder Challange shows us good usage of new Pentagonal piece. The contestant, Chris Maddison created a beautiful scenery that use this piece to create a fence for his garden. His MOC, The Flower Garden, is very neat and colorful with different scenery pieces.
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll at 05:12pm on 17/02/2017
I became aware something was watching me. It was the feral cat I feed. I was at Krug and Lancaster, four blocks from where I feed it. And it was farther up Krug than I was. How big is this cat's range?

Posted by Kate Sierzputowski

Design by Maki Okamoto. All images via Steinbeisser.

Merging design and haute cuisine, Amsterdam-based company Steinbeisser collaborates with designers and artists to produce surreal cutlery that operate beyond traditional ideas of usability for their online store Jouw… (Dutch for “your”). The tableware doesn’t necessarily make the experience of eating easier, but rather encourages the user to reconsider their relationship to utensils and how they are used.

“Yet it is not only about beauty, we also believe in sustainability,” explain co-creators Jouw Wijnsma and Martin Kullik on Jouw…’s website. “That’s why all the pieces are crafted only from natural materials, such as wood, calabash, stone, clay and glass. Often sourced locally and using materials that are found, recycled and/or reused. Even the smaller parts of the pieces such as glue, paint and glazing, are organic and biodegradable.”

One artist that incorporates reused materials is Swedish artist Maki Okamoto who works which antique silver nickel cutlery which she inherited from her husband’s grandmother. You can see more examples of experimental cutlery by more than 20 artists on Jouw…'s website and Instagram.

Design by Joo Hyung Park.

Design by Nils Hint.

Design by Maki Okamoto.

Design by Maki Okamoto.

Design by Nils Hint.

Design by Nils Hint.

Design by Nils Hint.

Design by Maki Okamoto.

flick: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] flick at 07:24pm on 17/02/2017 under
This morning, Mike woke me with the worrying news that the fridge and cupboard doors were not longer properly attached.

This afternoon, the fridge man came back and moved the attachment points to ones that are, in retrospect, far more sensible (we were both a bit "yeah, should have thought of that").

Fingers crossed....

Also this afternoon cameth the second guy to measure up and quote for the hall and living room floor. The first guy said "The floor's a bit uneven, we'll need to put something down first to level it off". The second guy, who was actually a floor fitter not a salesman, was really worried about the unevenness of the floor, and thinks we should get fake (vinyl) wood instead because it's cheaper and will work on an uneven floor.

I'm actually quite tempted: I'll be able to use a steam mop on it, for a start, which you can't do with actual wood (you have to use a very-lightly-damped cloth/mop, which sounds like a marvellous way to turn muddy paw prints into a thin even coating over the whole floor). When I asked first guy about dealing with mud, he said "you can wipe it up with damp kitchen roll", which didn't really seem like a satisfactory long-term solution when Jo's left a trail around the room: I think he thought I meant actual lumps of the stuff. Second guy, on the other hand, immediately said that he didn't think we should go with the kind of (fairly rough and grained) wood surface we'd been planning because it's a nightmare to keep mud-free when you have dogs.

Mike's slightly coming round to the idea, but wants to see it in a house. We shall see.

Posted by Christopher Jobson

Here’s a fun piece in Dresden by street artist OakOak (previously) who also recently published a new book. You can follow more of his quirky pop-culture influenced street installations on Instagram. (via Street Art Utopia)

posted by [syndicated profile] crpgaddict_feed at 12:00pm on 17/02/2017

Posted by CRPG Addict

Fate: Gates of Dawn
reLINE Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for the Amiga and Atari ST
Date Started: 21 April 2016
Date Ended: 3 February 2017
Total Hours: 272
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)

Fate was conceived as a successor to Alternate Reality, which had promised much--a city, a wilderness, an arena, a palace--but delivered little. In that, Fate succeeded. Not only did it retain most of the logistical considerations of Alternate Reality--hunger, thirst, fatigue, nutrition, encumbrance, disease, and so forth--as well as the complex NPC interactions, it allowed multiple characters in the party, created a full game world, and added a main quest.

The problem is that the game didn't know when to quit. I recommend that modern players, if they want to play Fate, end when they solve the Cavetrain quest. Up to that point, it's a great game. Different NPCs create a very different experience in combat and exploration, as in the beginning each one only has one or two spellbooks. You get to explore a large city, a large wilderness around it, a smaller sister city, and a large, complex, 7-level dungeon with a variety of navigational puzzles. Leveling is relatively swift and rewarding, and the economy still holds some value. Hints are plentiful, and the main quest is adequate. Seriously, play it this way. Don't read the backstory. Some mage has cut the city of Larvin, enclosed by mountains, from the outside world. Winwood is the son of a tavernkeeper whose family was murdered by marauders looking for supplies, since no goods are coming in from the outside world. Your only quest is to restore the function of the train. You'd have a 60-hour RPG with decent mechanics, and you'd walk away happy.

Instead, the game continues for another 200 hours, with senseless plot developments, character development that becomes less and less important (my characters ended the game with dozens of improvement slots), and combat that becomes either mindlessly easy (outdoors) or absurdly deadly (indoors). Equipment upgrades slow and then stop, the economy spins out of control, and the player spends dozens of hours just getting from one place to another. What would have been high GIMLET scores for Fate: Quest of the Cavetrain start to bleed away as the game get more spawling and pointless.

Yes, I got seduced by the map. It's happened before, often at work. With major projects on my "to do" list, I'll get sucked in by some boring, menial, seemingly-incompletable task and I'll have to tear myself away from it. "Chet, that report was due last week!," I'll hear, and respond, "Sorry! I'm busy coding some variable I'll probably never use across 200,000 records!" The process of filling in those little boxes became an opiate. I'm glad I stopped myself before insisting that I finish. I will admit that the map is pretty cool. The developer could have set an excellent RPG there, full of lore and side quests. He just didn't.

The plot of Fate starts out intriguing. Winwood is transported to the real world and current year to an alternate Earth in the year 1932 in which magic is real and other races exist. The agent behind his transport seems to be an evil wizard named Thardan. Thardan uses one of his followers to disable the Cavetrain and block Larvin's access to the rest of the world, ostensibly to keep Winwood from escaping the starting area.

It's not a bad beginning, but from there the game doesn't develop the plot at all. Thardan's motives are never revealed. Unlike the much later Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, Fate doesn't try to put real-world analogues into its alternate Earth. (And I'm not suggesting that Lionheart is a particularly good game; it's just the only other one I know set in an alternate history.) Neither the maps nor the names of the cities suggest an alternate Earth. The only real "plot twist"--having Winwood whisked to the dungeons beneath Cassida via the wand on Naristos's body--isn't explicitly part of Thardan's plot. If it is, it was a stupid idea, as it was the only way that Winwood came into contact with Bergerac and Morganna.

Morganna, the deus ex machina, comes out of nowhere with a compelling back, but no compelling backstory. Thardan comes to a swift and ignominious end without even the traditional villain's exposition. He remains a passive villain the entire game.
Fate officially jumps the shark.
The hint system, which starts out strong in Larvin, requiring only that the player find the right class of NPC, completely disappears by the end, where the player has to make several nonsensical leaps of logic.

The name of the game remains a complete mystery throughout. What are the "gates of dawn," exactly? What "fate" is at stake here?

I don't even know what to expect from a GIMLET at this point.

1. Game World. The backstory of the alternate Earth is clumsily explained and never referenced in-game. As noted above, Winwood's part in the world starts out intriguing and ends stupid. On the other hand, the developer did a good job with the design and mechanics of the game world. The cities feel like huge places, populated with hundreds of NPCs. The map is exquisitely detailed, if light on the thematic content. The day/night cycle and changes in the weather pattern have meaning and consequences in the game. A mixed bag overall, but I suppose a step up from the typical RPG of the era. Score: 5.

2. Character Creation and Development. There's no creation, but the game gets some credit for the variety of ways that you can develop your party by selecting different NPCs. The strengths, weaknesses, and abilities of the various classes create a fundamentally different game for each player, particularly in the opening stages.

The races are entirely unreferenced and unused. The guild-based development system, supplemented with boosts from the altar in the Alarian Vaults, is only "okay." I saved my development slots the entire time I was in Larvin because commenters told me it was more efficient to use the better guilds outside the city. Once I did so, I really didn't notice that much improvement in my characters' performance, even though in some cases their attributes (like strength, dexterity, and skill) went from the 20s to the 90s. Acquiring spells is the more important mechanism of development, but even this stops being important after each character has 3 or 4 books.

I also give the game credit for the multiple-party system, which I really didn't exploit the way I could have. For instance, instead of circling my single party around the world to look for hints, I could have kept several parties in convenient locations. Since all party members get experience from all kills, it wouldn't have diluted my leveling very much; in fact, it would allow you to develop a party explicitly for grinding and to keep them in a convenient grinding location (near an inn and tavern in Katloch would have worked well), switching to them periodically to add a couple of levels while everyone else explores.

I don't know whether to regard the various logistical challenges--hunger, thirst, nutrition, fatigue, sins, conditions--as part of character development or not. Either way, the game made them too easy. Trivial amounts of money and time take care of them, and by mid-game you can deal with them all with various spells. Score: 5.
Fate features a large number of attributes and statistics to develop.
3. NPC Interaction. NPCs make up a major part of the game. You need them to join your party, give hints, train your characters, and further a variety of steps on the main quest. A complex system of gaining their favor with various chat options is undermined by a system that allows you to simply bribe most of them. Like most things, it's stronger in the beginning game than the ending.

I do like that once characters join the party, they have some wants and preferences of their own. They occasionally pipe up with hints or random comments. They may refuse to give their money in bribes, to hide in combat, to yell, or to go off on their own in taverns. I look forward to later games that develop these unique personalities deeper and allow more role-playing encounters with the NPCs. Score: 6.
A party member refuses to follow orders.
4. Encounters and Foes. There is a huge variety of monsters in the game, and it follows the old Bard's Tale tradition of using the same graphics for many different monsters, some of which are trivially easy and some of which are bafflingly hard. The inclusion of monsters that never die from any hit point loss, no matter how many rounds, was inexcusable, as was making an initiative system in which some groups of enemies always go ahead of the party. Overall, the various strengths and weaknesses of the foes never really impressed me or led me to create different tactical templates for dealing with them, beyond simply bashing weak monsters and using my few NUKE options against tough ones.

I do admire the various pre-combat options, which allow some limited role-playing and additional encounter tactics. Again, though, these are terribly unbalanced. "Prayer" shouldn't work as often as it does, nor should it be necessary as often as it is.

Then we have the various non-combat encounters with objects and buttons and such, all of which use the same set of menus. Since the correct selection is often nonsensical, you learn to just try every option, often with every party member, before the solution is revealed. The various button and lever puzzles never rise to the level of even the weakest Dungeon Master knock-off. Score: 4.
These types of special encounters were nice, but rarely offered much in the way of role-playing.
5. Magic and Combat. "Overblown" is probably the best word to describe the combat and magic systems. I like systems that have lots of options, but only when those options come together to create real tactical decisions. I never found any use for "Grope," "Steal," "Warcry," or "Mock," even when they worked. Many of the spells, as I covered extensively, are essentially useless, or duplicates of each other. Straight attacks become overpowered when you get "greater melee weapons" that damage all creatures in one attack.

And yet, we have to give credit for the sheer number of options, even if they don't all work. As with everything, the first third of the game does best here, as you gingerly approach each new party and try a variety of actions to create "tactical templates" to use against different foes. When each character only has a couple of spellbooks, you find yourself experimenting more than when all characters have half of them. Some of the spells are highly-original and fun. Score: 5.
Towards the end of the game, combat difficulty got pretty nutty.
6. Equipment. This category is perhaps Fate's strongest. I always like games in which you regularly get equipment upgrades, and this only happens when the game offers numerous equipment slots or numerous characters. Fate does both. Each character gets two weapons, two pieces of body armor, a helmet, gloves, and boots, plus a variety of potions and special items. Multiply that among 7 characters in a single party and potentially 28 characters in all parties, and you find that the game never stops giving regular rewards except in the final act.

Fate also has solid mechanics here. Examining each item tells you most of what you need to know about it, including who can equip it and how it affects your statistics. Encumbrance becomes a real concern as the best armor tends to be quite heavy. My strategy was generally to equip the best item and deal with the encumbrance effects by discarding other things, but it's possible I could have done better by equipping lighter armor and keeping a greater variety of weapons in inventory, for instance.

Fate gets the highest score here that I can offer without complex item interaction (a la NetHack), detailed item descriptions (a la Might & Magic VI-VIII), or item crafting. Score: 7.
Rarely do games give you this kind of detail to help with equipment choices.
7. Economy. I like games that give you plenty to buy. Early in the game, Fate sets a tone like Alternate Reality in which you need gold just to survive. You might find yourself murdering a peasant for enough cash for your next meal, or a night in the inn. If you find a nice weapon, it's a real dilemma whether to keep it or sell it for enough rations and water to keep you going for the week. Above those basic needs are a variety of shops selling weapons and armor, healers, chapels selling indulgences, and of course new spells and character upgrades. Offering "alms" to NPCs also burns through the cash very quickly.

But having a lot of things to spend money on is only fun if money itself is scarce. From the moment you wander outside, kill your first dwarf, and get 1,500 "piaster" for the deed, you generally have as much money as you need the moment you need it. There was never a point in the game that I worried about going broke, and because of that, I never bothered to sell a single piece of equipment--I just dropped it when I was done with it. You saw how I bought about 6 redundant ships (perhaps the most expensive item in the game) and shrugged off the loss of over $7 million towards the end.
Towards the end of the game, when you have millions of piaster, the most expensive potions--such as this one that restores all spell points--only cost a couple of thousand.
The imbalance in the economy is perhaps best illustrated by the uselessness of the banking system. The developer spent a lot of time positioning banks with various investment opportunities throughout key cities, but you'd have to be daft to bother with them. Just go kill some more dwarfs. Score: 3.

8. Quests. The game only gets credit for having a main quest, and a rather stupid one at that. There are no alternate paths or outcomes, no opportunities for role-playing, and worst of all, no side quests throughout the enormous game territory. Oh, I suppose you could argue that it has some "side-areas" that improve character development, but anything it would gain here would be lost in light of the idiocy of the main questline. Score: 2.

9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. The graphics and sound are perhaps the best that they could have been for the era. The developers put a lot of effort into well-composed monster and NPC portraits, outdoor settings, and little mises-en-scène in the taverns, shops, and train. They certainly pass the "good enough" point that I require for this category. The sound effects go beyond that; not only are the clashes and zaps of weapons and spells done well, the game is one of only a few to offer evocative background sounds, so well-composed that I sometimes confused them for the real thing.
A diverse group awaits the Cavetrain.
The interface is the only place that I had real trouble. The game is meant to be used with a mouse--which makes me hate it already--but even worse, you have to click on very small menu options and frequently double-click by accident. Although you can use the keyboard in a limited sense, you have to mentally number the menu options to select the right key; an explicit numbering would have partially redeemed it. Too many options that you might want to use in concert are on different menus. All told, a bit of a nightmare. Score: 6.

10. Gameplay. Fate offers extensive map non-linearity but not plot non-linearity, and I prefer to see both together to really enjoy myself. (The 7-part Moonwand quest, which you can do in any order, was the exception and probably the high point of the post-Larvin part of the game.) I definitely would not call it "replayable." You'd have to be insane. In difficulty, it starts with a nice moderate level but goes off the rails after the Cavetrain quest, alternating between very easy and very hard. For "pacing," we of course award a big, scrawled "F" for being way, way too long. Score: 2.

This gives us a subtotal of 45, which puts it fairly high on my existing list. I'm not sure how to feel about that. On the one hand, the game does so well mechanically that you absolutely have to recommend it. For 1991, it is a wonder to behold, and when I first started it, exploring Larvin and its environment, every hour I discovered some new nuance that led me to admire the developer even more. On the other hand, the inability of the developer to know when to quit seems like it ought to count more than a few points in the final GIMLET category. And it's especially bad for offering an ending that isn't worth reaching, and for hints and directions evaporating towards the game's end. In the end, comparing it to the other games on the list, I feel better knocking off 3 points and kicking it down to the level of Knights of Legend, which had similar problems, at a final score of 42.

But let's talk for a moment about the game-within-the-game: Fate: Quest of the Cavetrain. Not only does it not lose those 3 additional points, it gains 3 more in the "gameplay" category for not being too long, 1 more in the "quests" category for not being stupid yet, 2 more in the "economy" category for not having gone out of control, and 1 more in "character creation and development" for development being more significant, and 1 more in both "combat" and "encounters" for not yet becoming bland and rote. Fate: Quest of the Cavetrain is a solid 54-point game, 9th-highest on my blog so far, better than everything except titles that offer extensive side-quests and more detailed role-playing options, and an obvious candidate for 1991's "Game of the Year." Don't cheat yourself out of this excellent game. Just don't worry about where the Cavetrain leads.

I say all of these things coming from an era in which 200- or 300-hour games are hardly uncommon. Steam tells me that when I last played Oblivion on my PC, it took me 213 hours. Skyrim took 278. (Neither totals count the multiple times I played both games on my console.) But of course these titles are packed with content, including so many side quests and faction quest threads that it's hard to keep track of them all. Even if you don't take a single quest, simply exploring each dungeon or structure and learning its individual story provides more rewards than the totality of Fate's plot.

On top of this, I have a sneaking suspicion that Fate was actually supposed to take even longer. I base this on the horribly unbalanced initiatives of the monsters towards the end of the game. Certainly, the developer didn't intend for the player to "pray" away every fight, right? Certainly, he didn't intend every encounter with the wandering demons to completely wipe out the party. Given that Morganna joins the party at Level 105, I wonder if the party wasn't supposed to be of a comparable level (my characters topped at around 60) before braving the Cassidan dungeons in the first place. That would have required an insane amount of grinding, but the game is already pretty insane.
Before any of my characters even had a chance to act.
I was therefore curious how reviews of the time treated a game of such unprecedented length. I scanned reviews offering both the best rating (89/100, from Amiga Joker in March 1991) and the worst rating (26/60, from Aktueller Software Markt in November 1991). Of the two, the Amiga Joker reviewer seems to have gotten the furthest--screenshots show scenes that could only be in Mernoc or Katloch, plus hit-point totals that suggest Level 50+ characters, which is pretty impressive. While recognizing that the game will involve "months of play," he doesn't seem to attach much quality to that, though he does warn of the game's overall difficulty. He particularly seems to enjoy the graphics and sound, and like me, he praises the background effects. (I only translated parts of the review, so if any German-speaking readers would like to read the entire thing and offer more details, I'd be grateful.)

The ASM reviewer, on the other hand, manages to make most of his negative points not about the gameplay or length but about the very graphics that everyone else seems to like. Only Amiga magazines would take a game with graphics as well-composed as this and find some way to bitch about them--in ASM's case, the complaint is that they're not animated. This is the 1991 version of modern reviews that, faced with a game like Fallout 4 where you can count individual blades of grass, conclude that the graphics "suck" because the blades don't cast individual shaodws. ASM also seems to have issues with the scope of the game, at least in terms of numbers of party members, spells, and dungeons.
I'm hard-pressed to find any contemporary reviews of the English version. I understand reLINE was going out of business (although later recovered) just as the English version was published. It's possible that it barely made it to English players' Amigas, let alone American ones. This is unfortunate, because--no offense to my European readers--American players had the most experience in 1991 with actual RPGs, and it would have been fun to see their reactions to both the length (Scorpia surely wouldn't have been able to finish the game before turning in her review, which would have galled her) and the clear foundation in Alternate Reality mixed with The Bard's Tale. Most European reviews focused on its relationship with Legend of Faerghail (1990), reLINE's previous RPG, which also showed a heavy Bard's Tale influence and also featured graphics by Matthias Kästner.
Fate's auteur was Olaf Patzenhauer, who apparently began working on the game around 1986, after some experience with Alternate Reality, The Bard's Tale, and some of the Ultima titles. I otherwise haven't been able to find very much about the man, such as age, education, or previous employment. He died in late 2011 or early 2012, some sites say from a heart attack but I was unable to find a specific obituary. Fate and a 1992 strategy game called Dynatech seem to be Patzenhauer's only non-adult games, and as we've seen, even Fate had plenty of adult material. His post-Fate credits include Penthouse Hot Numbers Deluxe (1993) and Biing!: Sex, Intrigue, and Scalpels (1995), described by MobyGames as "an erotic hospital-management simulation," which raises a number of questions I do not want answered.

From what I can gather from message boards, mostly in German, sometime in the early 2000s, Patzenhauer wrote a Fate 2 but never published it. Instead, he sent a personalized copies to friends and fans with the stipulation that they not share them. Accounts suggest that the game was never finished and had no main quest. (If any German-speaking reader would like to browse the forums here, you might find more information about the game than I did.) I've seen some sites that say the source code was destroyed upon Patzenhauer's death, as per his will, and others that say he lost the game in a computer crash before he died. (On one message thread in 2006, Patzenhauer talks about a computer crash but later says he recovered his data.) What everyone does seem to agree on is that the game featured plenty of manga-influenced graphics and nudity, if not outright hentai gameplay. (By his own account, Patzenhauer developed a deep interest in all things Japanese in the post-Fate years.) The image below, minus the black bars, came up in an RPG Codex thread in 2008, for instance. (As for the black bars, the images in my "won" posting are as explicit as a I dare get without worrying that Google will require me to turn on the "adults only" flag.) There are some rumors of a fan sequel in-progress called Fate 3.
Purported screenshot from the privately-distributed Fate 2.
It's going to be weird not having the occasional Fate session on my "to do" list, and I have a feeling that my memories of the game are going to be wrapped up in my memories of a weird year in which Irene and I moved 4 times. I played Fate in the cramped study of a temporary apartment in Boston, and on the porch of a beach house we rented for a few months on the North Shore. I had it going on the kitchen table of a one-bedroom in Portland as the summer breeze came through the window, and in the comfy office of the condo we eventually bought near Bar Harbor, as the snows fell on the harbor outside. Perhaps the instability of my living situation explains why I took refuge in the stability of mapping square after square of the huge game world. And perhaps it also explains why I was so personally offended at its shaggy-dog ending. Despite a relatively high score, I'm glad to be done with it and moving on.

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posted by [personal profile] theferrett at 12:02pm on 17/02/2017

So there’s a fairly repellent article on the plastic surgeon who’s created what he calls “the perfect vagina.” It is, according to the article, “pink, plump and hairless.”


Honestly, whenever I’ve written about my unfounded insecurities about my dick (link goes to a FetLife essay), women write in to say that most of them don’t care much about the size of the dick as long as it works. This despite the fact that porn of all stripes would tell you that every guy’s packing 7.5″ regular and everyone really wants to have a 12″ cock. And speaking as a guy who’s heard his share of locker room talk, I don’t recall a man having a firm (heh) preference on vagina visuals; generally, we’re just happy to be there.

It’s weird, because to me this is the downside of porn; once you start seeing lots of vaginas, you start ranking them in ways you wouldn’t if they were presented to you by people you loved, or at least hopefully liked. I don’t think anyone really starts out looking at porn and goes, “That pussy’s a 3 out of 10. TRY AGAIN, PORN STARLET.”

No, what happens is a slight preference over hundreds of vaginas; “That’s a little nicer, I guess. I might do with less hair, if you asked.” And those tiny shrugs add up into porn stars slowly converging towards some rude mean, and then over time – compare presentations of pussy in the 1970s to those in the 2000s – people come to expect that this is what a pussy should look like, and then suddenly outliers look weird.

What gets slowly nudged to the front is this denuded white-girl ideal, a mild predilection amplified by an abundance of poon and a market desperately eager to gather dollars. And that pussy, largely, doesn’t exist except for when it’s created, usually by painful Brazilian waxing techniques.

But like dicks or female bodies or male bodies, people have their own preferences – ones they don’t talk about, because a) objectivization is always weird, and b) they’ve been trained to think that their own preferences are somehow bizarre when really, if you did a survey, you’d find that people liked all sorts of female bodies, not just the skinny-model types.

They just don’t discuss it because, well, the skinny-model types are the ones you’re societally-authorized to drool over. Going, “Melissa McCarthy is so hot” gets people going, “Hey, man, she’s a comedienne, is it really cool to uncork such volcanic lust on her?”

So there’s this weird reverberation wherein people are authorized to like a specific form of body, and because they speak out that’s the body type people become conditioned to like (even if that conditioning doesn’t necessarily take), and all of society seems to desire this thing and this thing only when really it’s a mild majority preference by a lot of people who’d also be equally (if not more) happy with something else.

And so we’ve converged on this so-called “perfect” pussy – so much so that women feel the urge to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get professionals to cut them into a different configuration.

Which I can’t shame them for. I have severe depression, and sometimes you need to take shortcuts – you can all but kill yourself fighting this thing you know to be untrue, or sometimes you just say “Yeah” and take the path of least resistance. If the surgery makes them happier in the end, then I can’t blame them as long as they don’t start pussy-shaming other people.

(Nor can I blame the folks who get surgery for practical reasons – hey, yeah, if your lips stick out enough that it’s painful to ride a bike, sure. So really, I can’t blame anyone.)

But I think the whole syndrome is a shame that society is quietly shaping what a pussy “should” look like. Like I said, I don’t think most guys really have hard-core preferences on the matter, and those who do generally are the people who’ve had their mindset sculpted by porn to an uncomfortable degree.

What people like in porn and in movies is generally different from what people like when they’re dealing with, well, people. And thank God. Because those preferences are some idealized convergence created by abundance, reinforced by familiarity, and I hope none of us are as narrow as what the media would want us to desire.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

Posted by Kate Sierzputowski

Director Rafael Vangelis transforms the unbearable task of watching an endlessly spinning wheel or loading bar into an entertaining and analogue study of self-produced loading mechanisms in his latest short film Analogue Loaders. Using stop motion techniques and traditional animation he turns clay, wood, 3D-printed objects, and even eggs into 3D loaders, dazzling the eye rather than enraging the mind.

Vangelis considers the short film an animated autobiography, as he spends a great chunk of his own life watching projects slowly load and computers crash. “The result,” says Vangelis, “is an homage to all the lost time we collectively spend in digital limbo in the hopes of sudden development on our screen.”

The video was just selected as a Staff Pick on Vimeo. You can see behind-the-scenes video of Analogue Loaders on Vangelis’s website.

posted by [syndicated profile] dndwithpornstars_feed at 08:00am on 17/02/2017

Posted by Zak Sabbath

This came through for Patrick and me via the Satyr Press mailbag...

Hi guys,

I'm of that generation where I could be lifted right out of Stranger Things.  I picked up the red and blue books a few years after they were released, and then specifically remember my joy buying the Greyhawk full color map and actually taping it to our dining room wall.  I'm still surprised my father let the map stay up there all through junior high!

I've gamed ever since then, with only a couple of "dark" years where there was no gaming and did a couple of tours of duty in my 20s in the industry itself (was an editor and writer for Atlas Games and then did a few supplements for the amazingly esoteric Skyrealms of Jorune).  Then I went on to be a business professor and ultimately a consultant.

I'm happily now running a D&D 5e session with a group of mostly newbies ... including one Broadway actor, one improv comedian, a software exec, etc.  Fascinating group.  Probably the best group in terms of diversity I've ever gamed with.

The reason why I want to thank you is that through products like Maze of the Blue Medusa and Deep Carbon Observatory, I've rediscovered what it really means to run a game.  I got lazy over the years.  Grab the fancy, full-color Pathfinder modules, spend a ton of time prepping battles that would take hours, worry about online maps, etc.  I also played narrative game systems ... FATE, Fudge ... but even there I sometimes found myself searching for the easy way out -- fully developed scenarios I could just pop open and run.

The best game-mastering I ever did in my life was running the diceless game Amber back in the 90s.  I had the pleasure of meeting Erick Wujcik and doing a couple of games with him at GenCon, crammed into somebody's hotel room.  It REQUIRED me to make shit up, to listen to the players, to try to always keep things going and stay one step ahead.  

Prepping for some of my recent 5e sessions, culling from your material in various bits here and there but always making it my own, I've got my mojo back.  I'm inventing magic items and crazy curses on the fly, pushing the limit on mixing of genres ... comedy, then horror, then action, rinse/repeat.

So, for helping me get my DM mojo back, MAJOR appreciation.  Good luck with everything.  Wish I had more time to write again, as I'm that inspired.


Mark Frein
posted by [syndicated profile] montecookgames_feed at 06:07am on 17/02/2017

Posted by Charles Ryan

Iadace and welcome to Cypher Chronicles! MCG News If you’ve picked up Into the Outside, or checked out the free preview, you’re probably overwhelmed with weird and cool ideas for where your Numenera game might go next. But running an adventure in a realm of pure thought, or a reality made only of sound, can be tricky. This week we released the companion glimmer, In Alternate Dimensions, that makes GMing transdimensional adventures a bit easier. Among other things, you get 100 transdimensional GM intrusions—and let’s face it, who can’t use a few more intrusion ideas? This starts Monday. Do we really need to say more? MCG’s Shanna Germain contributed a guest post to The Skiffy and Fanty Show, a podcast and blog about the sci-fi and fantasy genres. In it, she talks about the role of grief in writing, and the impact of her personal experiences with grief during (and its effects on) the writing of The Poison Eater. And speaking of Shanna (who’s been very busy lately!), Lone Shark Games recently offered a sneak peek at some of the flavor text she’s written for their forthcoming Numenera board/card game, The Ninth World. They also gave us a look at a couple of pieces of art for the game. There’s more at the link—check it out! Get Inspired Looking for a few pieces of great art, maybe to illustrate your next adventure? How about 35,000 pieces? The New York Metropolitan Museum has digitized and released 35,000 pieces, and they’re available for free! What does a dying star smell like? Rotten eggs, it would seem. The Hubble space telescope recently captured the explosive death of a star—and got a whiff of its smell, too! Recommendations Love gaming miniatures—and more specifically, miniature accessories? This Kickstarter is funding some really cool bits of dungeon dressing, and it’s rockin’ the stretch goals! Artist Milovoj Ceran has done some great illustration for MCG in the past. Now he’s doing a really cool art book of Norse Mythology! Inspire Us Got something you’d like to see published in Cypher Chronicles next week? A cool blog post you’ve written about our games, scientific news that inspires your The Strange campaign, an Atlas Obscura photo that makes you dream of the Ninth World, a Kickstarter campaign that kindles your imagination, a charity event near and dear to your heart…share whatever you think would inspire Team MCG and would also be a good fit for Cypher Chronicles. Send your recommendations to cychron@montecookgames.com (submitting a recommendation does not guarantee publication). Share Do you like us? Do you really like us? You can play an important role in helping us thrive and create more great games: Leave a review at DriveThruRPG, Amazon, or with your local game store owner. Share these chronicles with other gamers you know. Invite those you love to sit around a table with you and delve deep into their imagination to create shared memories that will last a lifetime. ~ P.S. You Rock Hey, look! Now you can subscribe to get these blog posts right in your inbox. Right down there, at the bottom of this post! Just enter your email, and you’ll never miss a post (we won’t use your email for anything else, we promise). We’ve also added an easy way to share these posts on social media. You should see the buttons right at the bottom of this page! Keep up with MCG! Follow Monte Cook Games, the Weird of Numenera, and The Strange RPG on Twitter, like Monte Cook Games on Facebook, and subscribe to our MCG channel on YouTube. We also have a Pinterest account, which isn’t news, per se, but it has lots of pretty pictures.

Posted by Robin D. Laws

In the latest episode of their legitmately imperious podcast, Ken and Robin talk connecting with other players, CIA files, political thrillers and Emperor Norton.
posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 02:21pm on 17/02/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

Books are often turned into television series — but what about stories going to the other direction? As Matt Ruff shows you in this Big Idea for Lovecraft Country, stories intended for one medium sometimes find their full flower in another entirely.


Lovecraft Country started out as a TV series pitch. The big idea was to create a show like The X-Files, in which a recurring cast of characters had weekly paranormal adventures—only instead of being white FBI agents, my protagonists are a black family who own a travel agency in 1950s Chicago. The agency publishes a quarterly magazine, The Safe Negro Travel Guide, that lists and reviews hotels and restaurants open to black customers. (Such travel guides actually existed during the Jim Crow era, and contrary to what you might expect, they were most useful to travelers in the northern and western U.S., where discrimination was just as common as in the south but explicit “Whites Only” signs were rarer.)

My lead character, Atticus Turner, is a 22-year-old Army veteran who works as a field researcher for the Guide. Atticus is also a nerd whose familiarity with genre fiction comes in handy when things start to get weird, as they do: It turns out Atticus is the last living descendant of Titus Braithwhite, an 18th-century wizard and slave trader who founded a cabal called the Order of the Ancient Dawn. Now the modern incarnation of the Order has plans for Atticus.

In addition to occult forces, Atticus and his family have to deal with the more mundane terrors of American racism, such as sundown towns. Lovecraft Country’s title is a nod to this duality of horrors—H.P. Lovecraft being known for both his tales of cosmic dread and his embrace of white supremacy.

While transforming my original idea into a novel, I kept the structure of a season of television. The long opening chapter, like a two-hour pilot, introduces the main characters and sends them on a dangerous cross-country journey. Each subsequent chapter offers a self-contained weird tale—a “monster of the week” episode—starring a different member of Atticus’s extended family. In “Dreams of the Which House,” Atticus’s friend Letitia buys a haunted house in a white neighborhood and has to play the dead off against the living to keep what’s hers. In “Abdullah’s Book,” Atticus’s uncle George enlists his Freemasons’ lodge to stop an ancient treatise on magic from falling into the wrong hands. In “Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe,” Atticus’s aunt discovers a portal to another world. In “Jekyll in Hyde Park,” Letitia’s sister Ruby goes home with the wrong guy and wakes up to find that she’s been turned into a white woman. In “The Narrow House,” a dead man forces Atticus’s father to revisit the 1921 Tulsa race riot. In “Horace and the Devil Doll,” corrupt Chicago police detectives use sorcery to terrorize Atticus’s 12-year-old cousin. All of these episodes fit together to form a larger arc story about Atticus’s struggle against the Braithwhite clan and the Order of the Ancient Dawn.

For me, Lovecraft Country demonstrates the real power of diversity in art. By focusing on people who were traditionally excluded from genre fiction, I’m able to do interesting new things with some very old tropes, while simultaneously exploring aspects of our shared history that aren’t as well-known as they should be. Combining fantasy with realism produces a richer story than would be possible with either alone. And despite being set sixty years in the past, this is easily one of the most topical books I’ve written—though that says less about my skills as an author than it does about the state of the country that I live in.


Lovecraft Country: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.


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